The presence of tech investors is a notable feature of the anti-ageing end of the life science sector. For many biotech venture firms, which are exquisitely focused on minimising the risks of drug development, the fields of rejuvenation or lifespan extension are, for now, a step too far.
Michael Greve, the founder of Kizoo Ventures, says that he also faced disbelief when he began forming internet companies in Germany, a couple of decades ago. “We told people the internet was going to be more important than any other media and people said ‘these guys are idiots’. Rejuvenation today sounds like science fiction but actually the science is happening now, and it’s starting to become real,” he tells Evaluate Vantage.
To that end, Mr Greve has committed €300m ($365m) from Kizoo’s coffers – rather than raising it from limited partners – to invest in what he calls rejuvenation biotechnology. The former tech fund, which pivoted to anti-ageing around six years ago, is seeking novel, unproven technologies with the potential to bring about molecular and cellular repair.
“Rather than slowing ageing we are aiming at the root causes of what really goes wrong [in the body], and trying to fix that,” Mr Greve says. His end goal could not be loftier: a world where ageing is under full medical control and age-related diseases a thing of the past.
Mr Greve describes his approach as twofold. Firstly, funding in-depth research into existing scientific and medical knowledge, as it pertains to rejuvenation, in an attempt to tap into findings that might be unappreciated. Secondly, company formation, with the aim of seeding “category openers”, as he calls them, founded around novel approaches that will push the rejuvenation field forwards and, hopefully, encourage others to participate.
“We want to create successful companies but also want to inspire others to come in to this market – there will never be an industry unless competition happens,” he says.
The fund has already helped seed four firms, one of which, Underdog Pharmaceuticals, is currently seeking follow-on financing. Mr Greve says this company has had interest from more traditional backers of life sciences but also a lot of interest from the tech community and crypto investors.
The makeup of any syndicate that does emerge for Underdog will be revealing, in that it will signal whether the company is undertaking work that mainstream biopharma investors consider viable. It seems likely that, for now, Kizoo will find itself working with backers happy to take a very long-term view.
|Kizoo's seed companies to date|
|Underdog Pharmaceuticals||$4m||Cyclodextrins for arterial plaque removal|
|Cellvie||$5m||Mitochondrial transfer technology|
|Elastrin Therapeutics||Undisclosed||Reversal of tissue calcification|
|Revel Pharmaceuticals||Undisclosed||Inflammation and fibrosis resolution|
Underdog is working with engineered cyclodextrins, which it believes can shuttle damaging plaque from arteries. The initial focus is patients at very high risk of heart attack but the end goal of this avenue of research is much wider: to find an inexpensive pill that can be swallowed daily by everyone in the world over the age of 35, to prevent plaque build-up in the first case.
Anyone with even a fleeting knowledge of the history of cardiovascular drug development will recognise how outlandish this sounds. But Mr Greve insists that he recognises the difficulties ahead, pitching his work as a humanitarian-driven first step forward for a field that needs spearheading.
“Underdog is a very good example of what we are doing in general, and idea of the business models we are thinking about,” Mr Greve says.
"What we do is super high risk but also super high reward. If we succeed with Underdog and develop a therapy to eradicate heart attacks and strokes it will be an extremely valuable company. The second-best outcome would be that we inspire others and they find a better way to get cholesterol out of arteries,” he says.
Mr Greve is not the only tech investor to be lured by the potential of anti-ageing. Google-backed Calico is focused on what it terms “ageing science”, while other similarly focused companies like Samumed and Human Longevity have amassed huge amounts of cash, largely from non-traditional healthcare sources.
“Repairing something at the root level is a very engineering approach, and tech people understand that,” Mr Greve says.
Access to incredible pools of wealth is another feature of the tech sector, of course, though Mr Greve contends that money is not really the issue here.
“It has to be done because the humanitarian win if we succeed, and the commercial win, would be huge,” he says.